Castmates each snag $600,000 per seg

NEW YORK — This season’s biggest cliffhanger ended late Friday when the castmates of “Seinfeld” agreed to sign for a ninth season. Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards will each earn $600,000 an episode, making payroll for the three stars $39.6 million for next season, sources said.

The trio signed a one-year deal with an option for a second, which would be predicated upon the show’s star and producer, Jerry Seinfeld, agreeing to return for a 10th season.

Following a weeklong test of nerves, the stalemate was broken during a daylong bargaining session at Castle Rock headquarters.

NBC execs John Agoglia and Warren Littlefield seemed for months to be unwilling to budge off an initial offer to boost each cast member’s salary to $250,000 from $150,000.

Wednesday an offer of $400,000 per actor was rejected, and NBC let the cast members sweat the following day, with no negotiations taking place.

But while network brass were locking in the schedule one day later, Castle Rock execs Alan Horn, Jess Wittenberg and Glenn Padnick saved the day by giving the cast whopping paydays that set precedents for an ensemble sitcom.

The CR execs orchestrated the deal in concert with NBC’s Don Ohlmeyer. The CR trio hashed out the deal, with William Morris’ Marc Schwartz and attorney Michael Gendler of Gendler, Codikow & Carroll repping Alexander, manager Bill Melamed and attorney Tom Hansen of Hansen, Jacobson, Teller & Hoberman repping Louis-Dreyfus, and attorney Phil Klein repping Richards.

The presence of the Castle Rock contingent reflected how close “Seinfeld” came to extinction. The producer, already fattened up by syndication revenues, had stayed on the sidelines and let NBC handle the negotiating. But it would hardly make a good showing for the corporate bosses at Time Warner if CR’s TV arm not only got cancellations on “The Single Guy” and “Boston Common,” but also on one of the biggest sitcom hits in TV history.

And CR will reap a continued financial windfall, since each episode has sold to syndication for $3 million an episode. An additional 22 only helps the stockpile of reruns.

NBC execs also breathed easy with the Seinfelders back in the fold. “We’re extremely pleased that ‘Seinfeld,’ the ‘show about nothing’ that means everything to viewers nationwide, will be with NBC for another year,” NBC president Warren Littlefield said in a statement. “With the cooperation of Castle Rock Entertainment and all other profit participants on the show, we were able to construct an agreement that was financially acceptable to all parties and would allow the show to remain on our primetime schedule.”

It was unclear whether Castle Rock or NBC picked up the salary hikes. NBC already pays CR a license fee of more than $2 million an episode, but the web hardly suffers. Ad time sold for $550,000 per 30-second spot for the season just ending, which could rise because of the salary hikes. For last-minute scatter sale spots grabbed by such clients as studios opening a movie, 30-second commercials can go for as high as $800,000, sources said.

The web gets nine 30-second spots per show, so over the 48 airings a season, estimates are that NBC grosses about $200 million after ad agency commissions. Subtract the license fees, and that’s more than $150 million in revenue. The windfall suffers thanks to a new cast payroll that will reach $62 million, counting Seinfeld’s raise to $1 million an episode. Though the profit margin has dwindled, NBC keeps intact the 8:30 and 9:30 havens for launching new shows.

The deal is the culmination of sometimes bitter bargaining that began in January, when Seinfeld reversed a decision to end the show this month (Daily Variety, Jan. 19).

Many feel the resolution will bolster the bargaining power of stars on other hit shows such as “Frasier,” “ER” and “Friends.” NBC will obviously argue in future bargaining sessions that no series is quite like “Seinfeld.” “Seinfeld” finished its eighth season with unsurpassed ratings and demographics, and has generated hundreds of millions in ad revenues for NBC, and equal amounts of syndication revenues to Castle Rock, Seinfeld, co-creator Larry David, and executive producers Howard West and George Shapiro.

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